Although fraudulent scams are an age old problem, new technologies have proven to be a breeding ground for fraud. Nearly every advancement in communication technology has brought forward countless new ways to part people with their money.
One of the newest and most problematic techniques involves taking advantage of the relay telephone system. By law every state is required to have some sort of relay system for the deaf and hard of hearing, and while for the most part they serve a worthy cause, some recent problems have caused many to stop accepting relayed calls.
Most of the fraud takes the form of an unidentified person calling through relay, trying to buy or sell large amounts of a goods and services. While such calls do not necessary equal fraud, they should be taken carefully.
Jackie Davis, owner of Price Floral, has been targeted twice from a caller taking advantage of the system, but recognized fraud early on.
"They asked to place a very large order with six arrangements that were $200 to $300 a piece," said Davis. "They tried to get me to take their (likely stolen) credit card for the order, but didn't want to discuss any of the arrangements and were really in a hurry to get me to take the card. People are usually very specific with large orders like this, just a lot of red flags."
Businesses in particular have been heavily targeted often with a relayed caller requesting a large order or asking for ad placements in distant locations. Many businesses have even stopped taking relayed calls because of the misuse, which leads the obvious problem of legitimate users being blocked.
"I do not encourage businesses owners to reject any relay, but with the scams we're trying to do now, is get information out with our public relations firm," said Mary Beth Green, Utah's Telecommunication relay service specialist. "We want to know about these problems, they are growing in Utah, but are much worse in other states."
Green also indicated that if someone suspects misuse of the relay system, that they can file a complaint with the operators, who are now being trained to handle fraudulent calls.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also released this statement about relay misuse.
"The Commission has received informal complaints that people without disabilities, who are posing as deaf or hard of hearing consumers, are misusing an Internet based telecommunications relay service ("TRS" or "Relay Service") called "IP Relay" to perpetrate fraudulent business transactions, often by using stolen or fake credit cards."
Although this statement is broad, the FCC has also put together some guidelines on how to best deal with a potential relay fraud. The six steps include:
The person is happy to order "whatever you have in stock";
Supplies multiple credit cards as one or more are declined;
Cannot provide the credit card verification code number (the three digit number on the back of the card);
Wants the goods shipped through a third party and/or an overseas location;
Will not identify himself or give a company name;
Changes delivery or payment method after an order has been approved.
As for Price Floral's case, Jackie encountered nearly all of these indicators and when she asked for address verifications she was given a spot on the highway outside of Huntington.
"It took them about 45 seconds to come up with 600N 400E in Huntington. I looked it up on Map Quest and it's just on the road in the middle of nowhere," said Davis.
Sorenson Communications PR director Ann Bardsley indicated that company is aware of the problem and is working very hard to inform their customers on how to protect themselves. She went on to say that its been going on at least since Sorenson got involved with relay system four years ago. Although the company has filed comments with the FCC, to date no action has been taken, but with better training Sorenson hopes to decrease fraud and willingly participate in any lawful investigations.
The final straw for Jackie came after a request for her wire $950 to a remote location for shipping.
"I asked for more information and they just said 'are you going to do this or not' I told them no and the hung up," concluded Jackie.